From Adrian Barnett at New Scientist:
Not all of Prum’s analogies or counterexamples worked for me, and the attacks on the prevailing view often seemed strident. However, the book deserves to be read, just as the idea of pure beauty evolving unallied to selection and unalloyed by function deserves to be examined and considered. You may not end up agreeing with the reason for its existence, but the dance Prum performs to convince you to take him on as an intellectual partner is beautiful and deserves to be appreciated on its own terms. More.
Okay, a noble flop.
See also: Can sexual selection cause a decline inevolutionary fitness?
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4 Replies to “New Scientist on the evolution of beauty”
The referenced article seems like either archaic pseudoscientific hogwash or low grade bovine excreta. Maybe both. It’s discouraging to see so much nonsense written out there.
The reviewer Adrian Barnett is just trying to cover for his coreligionist Richard Prum as he attempts to smuggle the metaphysical concept of beauty into a/mat.
Didn’t you know that beauty is only the outworking of the properties of the charm quark?
In general, humans equate beauty with symmetry: a face is beautiful to the extent that the eyes are in line and equally spaced, the nose is straight and has nostrils of equal size, etc.
However, since mere photographers could reproduce beauty accurately by the late 19th century, painters and sculptors in the 20th century embarked upon a series of increasingly ugly (in classic terms) experiments in new styles. The result of these experiments has been the destruction of Art in any objective, meaningful terms. Modern art is pricey only because the market is controlled by anti-establishment people with more money than brains.
I have to believe that Beauty is NOT high on the list of requirements for most non-human species. Most of the mating displays are about stamina in males, although a couple years back I read that most female deer, for example, in fact join a new harem as soon as the male deer running the current harem has mated with them. So being the first to attract a harem doesn’t mean all of the fawns will be yours. Similarly, I have also read that birds that “mate for life” may share a nest with their original mate each season, but samples of the DNA from the eggs indicate that the females also mate with males other than their nest-mate. And conversely, males are apparently boffing other females during those frequent absences “hunting”.
For most humans over the last million years, there was only ONE female available in your manpack when a young male became sexually mature. And she was likely to be grabbed by one of the older males, regardless of how “beautiful” she was. There was always the option of bedding down with Aunt Effie, whose husband Thog died last fall after that unfortunate encounter with the wounded mammoth. And of course “beauty” had never been used in the same sentence as “Aunt Effie”.
Vague and only partially correct and unrelated to the OP. Dr. Prum is maintaining that the female birds that he studies are selecting for beauty in the male. This is in error on two fronts.
First beauty is a metaphysical concept. There is the beauty of the birds he studies. The beauty of a sunset, the morning glory pool in Yellowstone and the shapes and colors of Antelope canyon. Beauty is not just in the biological realm nor is it just about sex.
Second, his experience of the bird is beauty, he can’t possibly know what the bird is experiencing. See Thomas Nagel “What is it like to be a bat”
This is a serious misapprehension of the course of art. Art follows philosophy. If you understand the course of philosophy of the 18th thru 21st centuries you will understand the art. Materialism played an important part in some of the ugly art.
We can’t know what non-human species are experiencing. See above.
While DfO @5 is rather blunt. I can’t improve on the judgement that storytelling and fake history are predominately used to justify bad behaviour.